Well, I was wrong. And I’m thrilled!
What’s even better is the conflicting point of view that I sparked. Certainly not everyone agreed with my argument, and that was fine by me. The sheer number of views and comments reinforces the opening point I made in that post: the movie and the subject of beauty, which is clearly part of the story, generate a lot of interest. My question was why?
Many of the commentators on my post explained that the story line around inner beauty touches us all and the fact that the Belle character is even more nuanced elevates the story even more. I buy that. But I was more interested in why the subject of beauty in fairly tales still resonates. Period. A few years back I wrote a post about the animated movie, Brave, and how I appreciated that fact that she was not regarded as beautiful or ugly, but rather stubborn, athletic, loving, etc. In other words, beauty didn’t enter the equation.
I concluded that the subject of beauty has a key role. It isn’t something to ignore, but a topic we should raise and discuss.
And this means we should also encourage the topic of ugliness. This is the other side of beauty. Can someone look or be ugly? I notice that I dissuade my children from describing things or other people as ugly. But in doing so am I am I shutting them down entirely. Is that right? Shouldn’t we invite the discourse? Doesn’t Beauty and the Beast do just that?
Here’s a reason to talk about it. I recently read a fascinating article by Mindy Weisberger of LiveScience, Beauty and the Beast: Why We are Fascinated By Human-Animal Mates? As you can tell from the title, the story delves into the role of half-human half-animal characters in fairy tales. Interestingly the half-animal characters are mostly male. I won’t summarize the whole article but share one reason. In the times of fairy tales, young girls, say around 14 years old, would often be betrothed to much older men. To these girls, older men were obviously bigger, harrier, more muscular, perhaps even animal-like in their eyes. To assuage their fear of their future husbands, stories would often depict the princes as part animal. And as we all know, everything turns out all right and we live happily ever after. What an interesting explanation to share with our children! And you can imagine the profound discussion that this explanation would lead to around women’s rights, equality, strong partnerships with romantic partners, and the list goes. But without the freedom to pursue the topic of beauty and ugliness, we may never get to broach those issues.
We are innately interested and appreciate beautiful things and beautiful people. And in an effort to shield girls and boys from placing too much emphasis on beauty, of course we shouldn’t elevate it to the only, or the primary source of conversation. As an aside, there’s a book that just came out this week by Renee Engeln about our attention on beauty as a form of sickness, aptly named, Beauty Sick, How the Cultural Obsession with beauty and Appearance Hurts Girls and Women. The analysis shows the ramifications of too much thought around beauty. Obviously I don’t endorse that. But I also believe that we shouldn’t ignore the subject all together or even downplay it. Let’s embrace beauty, the uniqueness of it, and the bad and the good that come with it.